a decision

the last of the bottles go into the sink, she shuts the faucet off, and her hand is pressed wetly against her forehead. nathan doesn't cry from his bed, and there is nothing but silence around her for the first time in hours. her sudsy fingers work their way through her hair, and madelyne wishes she could just cut her hair already. it's almost past her waist now and it's a hassle to deal with, in between tending to nathan, keeping the house together, and trying to do things daily that was befit of two people, not one.

and, more annoyingly, she realizes she looks more and more like the picture in scott's wallet. she looks like his dead lover, his jean — all that long hair, her bikini and that self assured smile — and it makes her unsettled, angry when she looks in the mirror and sees how much she's beginning to resemble her day by day that more and more she thinks of how much that photo had rattled her, that she had tried to move past it, and now, what was there to show for it?

the changes in her appearance only makes it all the more sour because scott's not here anymore. he walked out that door weeks ago, leaving her on her own with nathan, a newborn. he'd gone without reason or explanation and he hadn't come back. he hadn't even turned around to get his stuff, piled in their rooms still as if at any moment, he'd come back, apologize and they could be husband, wife and child again.

her mouth goes into a bitter line, fingers cascading through her hair. she catches her reflection: tired, with dark circles under her eyes, the wild looking hair on her head, the robe she was wearing because nothing else was comfortable on her form after birth.

this isn't how she envisioned marriage. this isn't how she envisioned raising a child: alone, in a house meant for more, only occupied by two souls.

what hurts most of all is that sometimes, her eyes will go to the phone. that when she finishes everything, when she shuffles over to the couch to watch those horrible "mutant extermination" commercials, she thinks of scott. she thinks of how he felt lying lying next to her, his attentiveness when she was pregnant, the love of his that she so clearly had then but didn't have now. looking at him, searching for just when and how he stopped loving her, stopped caring about their son. how and when he had suddenly become so cold towards them, without explanation.

she can't find it — no matter how hard she tries, no matter what she does, madelyne can't find it.

so she has to do something else. she has to figure out a life without scott, a life with nathan instead. so she sighs, goes away from the window and to the refrigerator. she fixes herself a plate with a brownie, gets some milk and takes the plate to the couch, not too far from natha's bedroom.

even though the commercials hurt, even though she could be doing something, anything else, madelyne turns on the television. she doesn't wash out the suds from her hair and instead watches the television, until her vision blurs, the static settles over her and she's asleep.

in her dreams, she dreams of her and scott together, again. the house is filled with laughter, and they are a family.

the dream is only shattered when she hears nathan crying. she gets up, puts the plate and milk down and goes to his room as quick as she can. she holds him close, nuzzles against his hair, and resists the urge to cry with him, for him.

"i won't leave you, nathan," madelyne promises him, bouncing him, "not ever. it'll be you and me."

departure

"c'mon, nathan," maddy carefully straps him into the carriage, keeping her voice soft. "we're gonna get out of here, you and me."

he coos back and madelyne smiles at him. her hair still hasn't had that much needed cut, but she's accomplished more than that, now. the house is sold, locks changed. she gave her two weeks to her in-laws — as much in-laws as they could be, about as useful as scott (which was to say not at all) — and she was leaving, now.

it was to the main land and the thought had come to her in the middle of a tired night, two weeks ago. that she had to get to the mainland, get a job there and start fresh. don't leave any indication of where she was going, or when. just get up, go and leave anchorage.

so she looks for a job. a big one. enough that it can pay for them to start a new life, together. and this one is big: it's to san francisco on a 747 boeing. it's a full load — 387 passengers not including nathan, sixteen crew members. she's the pilot, and she's done this before. just this time, there was going to be no return to anchorage after.

as she surveys the meager things she's brought with as the plane is boarded, something in her says something is… wrong about this. that something about packing up like this, heading out on an impulse wasn't good. what would happen if scott came back? what would happen if his grandparents finally said something and pulled him back? what if they'd never see each other again and nate would grow up without a father? what would happen if she couldn't find anything on the mainland?

and yet every time, something in her overrides the thoughts: she has to go. get gone. now, now now.

and she follows it. she's sick of being madelyne the wife, madelyne the human, madelyne, left behind to rot with a baby all on her own. leaving this place was the only thing that made sense in a lifetime of things that weren't making sense anymore.

what did make sense was being madelyne, flying solo. madelyne, the pilot who was a hot shot on her own, who'd been able to make it on her own. and so she makes sure that the meager belongings they have are secure. she makes sure that nathan — still oddly quiet — is secure in his seat and then she gives anchorage one last look. looks at the way the sun hits the horizon, at the snow, at the house they had, miles off.

thinks of how empty it is. thinks of how scott hadn't wanted to be there in the first place, that he had to have storm wrestle him to the ground to make him come home.

the beat in her head plays again: get out, leave, go to the mainland now.

she zips up her flight suit, boards the plane and begins the protocols for flight. every check, every signal tells her that this is what she has to do. that she is destined to be back in the air, to be solo again.

well, solo with a baby.

"i hope you're like me, nathan," she says as the plane rocks forward. "i hope you love flying as much as i do."

nathan coos and she smiles.

within minutes, the plane leaves the tarmac. they ascend into the air and for the first time in maybe a year, madelyne pryor feels like herself again. she feels free, unmoored, and she wipes away the tears from her face as they take to the air, mother and son at last.

arrival

one moment the plane was in the air, just fine. the landing was going to be smooth, easy. she and nate were gone from anchorage and now they'd be on the mainland. everything was going fine, everything was sure. the buzzing in her head that told her to leave, to get gone was calming. they were landing in san francisco and like the other passengers, they were looking at something golden.

or they had been.

things are hazy. hydraulics are gone. two engines up in flames, and a third explodes on the tarmac. sweat is pouring down her forehead, she's yelling, trying to correct the plane. there are so many people's lives on the line — hers included. and she's trying with all her might to fix this, to lose no one, and then—

and then—

flames. there are flames and there are screams and the voices aren't stopping. they aren't stopping not until she finally walks out of the flames. and it's wrong, when she realizes that she's not in the flames anymore. she can't smell fuel or bodies even though she should with a crash that immense. she gasps as she walks, wondering why her clothes are just fine, why her flight suit isn't on her anymore. she loves her flight suits, she always wears it so why is she dressed so differently when the medics take her?

why is it that when she climbs in with them something feels… wrong?

as if something terrible, infinitely, irreplaceably precious isn't with her. the though is thunderously awful in her skull, and that's when madelyne comes back to herself.

and that's when it occurs to her that something is wrong with the medic. the medic hasn't asked her anything important, hasn't asked her name or status and hasn't asked if—

"my baby!" her voice croaks it out and the ambulance seems to shift with the words, going from something madelyne had simply blindly accepted to suddenly sinister. there aren't enough instruments, not the right equipment. they aren't wearing medic uniforms, she realizes with a jolt — it's all worn wrong, like a costume. "where's my baby?!" the medic's face hardens and that's when madelyne pulls her arm back and socks the medic in the face with as much strength as her body can muster. for all the ways that her husband had made her feel defenseless, she still had some mean tricks up her sleeve.

the "medic" is clearly not expecting this with the way she yelps. madelyne hits her again as hard as she can, unwilling to go down without a fight.

it's no surprise that in a tussle, she tumbles out of the ambulance. her mind is only on one hing now as she runs — not into tarmac, not into a normal street but one deep in a city she's unfamiliar with. the screams are still echoing in her head, but now she knows that something is wrong and the only thing she wants to do is escape them and find her baby.

she runs deeper into the street as they race after her, the ambulance forgotten. madelyne remembers things in pieces: arclight. scalphunter. cyclops. bitterness stirs in her belly as she remembers that he isn't here, hasn't been here in how long?

she ducks behind an alley, panting hard, wondering again: where was her flight suit? how could they be so far away? why wasn't anyone talking about the dead?

her fingers grasp onto a metal trashcan as the woman and man race past. she heaves it upward, slams it into her back and then turns to run. she's almost scott free when there's a thoom. the very ground ripples and she tumbles to the ground. she whimpers, distantly feeling the pain, hearing the sound of a gun being adjusted.

the last thing she sees, in pain, shaken, disoriented is a man lifting a gun at her head. she can hear the words finish the job.

and then a bullet shatters her skull.

her last thought is of nathan: of how quiet he'd been, of if he was safe, if he was being hunted too, if anyone even knew if he was missing, if he even knew his mother had been looking for him at all.

there is nothing else. not the flames, not scott. nothing. she's left on the pavement in a smear of brain matter and blood, a loose end finally taken care of.